How To: Proper Form for Deadlift with Dumbbells

The deadlift is a powerhouse exercise that works your glutes, hamstrings, abductors, upper and lower back and even your abs. It’s also a risky exercise if you do it incorrectly. Compromising proper form even a little bit can strain your back and put too much pressure on your spine. To be sure you’re performing the deadlift safely, get a fitness professional or physical therapist to demonstrate the movement and correct your form if necessary.

Choosing Weight

You perform a dumbbell deadlift with one weight in each hand. How heavy should you go? That depends on how well you’re able to maintain your form with the weights you use. Doing a lot of reps isn’t necessary, so you may want to challenge yourself with heavy weights. When you start, however, go lighter than what you think you can handle so that you get used to doing the exercise properly. Once you have the form down, build up to using heavier and heavier weights.

Starting Position

Begin with your feet about shoulder-width apart and your arms relaxed in front of your thighs, palms facing inward. Grasp your weights securely and pull your shoulders back and down. Maintain a very slight bend in your knees to avoid hyperextension.

Going Down

To do the move, you’ll slowly lower your weights until you feel a notable stretch in your hamstrings and glutes. As you lower, “Golf Digest” fitness editor Ron Kaspriske recommends focusing on sticking your butt back behind you. Doing so will help you keep a straight back and challenge the hamstrings and glutes instead of the lower back. Personal trainer and bodybuilder, Scott Carrell, also suggests arching your back before you even start the movement. If you can maintain that arch and bring the weights all the way to the floor, great – if not, lower only until you feel your back begin to round. As soon as you lose the arch, bring your weights back up.


Lifting your dumbbells should be a slow, controlled movement. The dumbbell deadlift is fluid, meaning that you don’t pause to rest at the top or the bottom of the exercise. When you lift, don’t bring weights any higher than your thighs, where you began the move. Maintain the arch in your back, and keep your knees very slightly bent — at about a 15-degree angle.


Too hard? If you round your back right away, pick up much lighter weights or do the exercise with no weight at all so that you can practice keeping an arched back. Too easy? Use heavier weights or try one-legged deadlifts. To do them, bend one leg behind you and perform the exercise as normal. Keep your hips square and facing forward, and never lose the arch in your back.

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